Wednesday, January 23, 2013

French lessons

I have not been blogging  because of all the usual reasons people stop blogging: 1) No interesting information to impart. 2) Lack of photographic evidence. 3) Indecision. 4) Malaise? Millieu? Ennui? Contretemps? (ClichĂ©?!)

Today I’ll talk about the saddle. After much waiting, I was recently rewarded with a 17” demo Specialized Eurolight. This demo was built specifically for me, which made it less of a demo and more of a…. hmmm… je ne sais quoi. I guess I would call it a custom order with an extra-lenient return policy. Anyway, Carol at Lost Juniper did all the legwork for me because Specialized is notorious for their lax customer service. I tried to contact them a few times on my own, then gave up and did as Aarene suggested in Endurance Granny's comments! 

The saddle weighs almost nothing. I handed it—fully rigged with pad and all—to Sarah just to brag on it. I was rewarded with an epithet that I will not repeat here, because this is a family blog.

It also fit Blue beautifully right out of the box (it came pre-shimmed based on the measurements I sent). I might do a little fine-tuning to push me off the dominant diagonal and allow for his huge left shoulder, but the basic fit was spot-on. I could see right away that the design of the tree is a little different from the ancient Trailmaster that I had. The panels come down a little lower so the bearing surface of the saddle is in a slightly different space.

As soon as I sat in it, I could feel that that twist was narrower and the rise in the seat was flatter. It didn’t feel a lot bigger than my 16”, really, but depending on where I put the tape, it really is at least an inch bigger in the seat, maybe two. The space for my big, fat thighs is where I really notice it. That space is quite a bit wider so my thigh isn’t crammed against the pommel or the cantle. 

Other things I noticed: the construction of the 2012 Specialized looks cheap and sloppy compared to the 2000 model. The 2000 leather is thicker and more buttery. The 2012 is stiff (even for a new saddle) and not evenly dyed. The 2000 model uses nails, tacks, grommets and screws. The 2012 uses a lot of staples. All that aside, it is still a more thoughtfully put together saddle than 80 percent of what you’ll buy off the rack at a feed or tack store these days. I would rate my feelings about the saddle as “satisfied” as opposed to “impressed.” But then, we are living in cynical times.

Initially, I was worried about not having a sheepskin for grip (I went with the cheaper plain seat for the demo), but it isn’t an issue. I feel perfectly secure. I immediately liked the two-inch leathers instead of fenders. They give my legs a lot more freedom for cues, but they still feel substantial and not too swingy. I am a little worried that they are going to bruise my shins, though. Is it normal for them to make so much contact with the leg? I am thinking I could put the stirrup turners onto this saddle if I want the leathers to really be perfectly flat. It seems like overkill, but as long as we are making changes in the name of ultimate comfort, why not go a little overboard? 

To be really thorough in my investigation, I took the sheepskin off the old Trailmaster and put the new leathers on it, so I was comparing the two saddles apples to apples. The interesting thing is that the old saddle immediately felt a lot narrower without the sheepskin and the fenders. I know, DUH, Ruth. Of course it feels narrower without two inches of fleece between you and the seat. But the fleece has been such a non-negotiable part of my endurance tack that I hadn’t really factored it in as a vector for pain.

With the sheepskin removed and the leathers subbing in for the fenders, I got a much better feel for what the old Trailmaster was at its most basic. The old saddle was pinching where the back of my thigh/butt met the bottom edge of the cantle, but I hadn’t really noticed it before because the sheepskin was protecting me.

So the question was this: Is getting rid of that pinch worth $1600?

Hello, my name is Ruth, and I am the bourgeoisie. 

I have no real justification. I didn’t buy it to help the economy or because I particularly appreciate Specialized as a corporation. 

I bought it because it was a saddle that fit me and my horse, and there aren’t so many of those out in the world that I’m prepared to risk losing this one. (See also: Why I got married.)

One thing about this particular saddle is that it was put together a little more sloppily than the average. The leather that covers the underside of the tree wasn’t glued on right, so it is sort of wrinkled/bubbled. Anyway, the problem is in a place that no one would ever see it, but I went ahead and emailed the pictures to Carol and asked if Specialized would consider giving me a discount for this obvious factory defect.

They offered me a tiny (tiny!) amount off the base price. I graciously accepted.

And so, once again, money was “saved” through the power of complaining.

Two things I really dislike about this saddle: Staples where my old saddle had nails and the sloppy leatherwork on the tree.

One thing I really like about the saddle: Look how happy my horse is! (And yes, after seeing this photo, I did place it a bit further back the next time I rode.)


  1. I agree that the workmanship on Specialized has become increasingly adequate (as opposed to "impressive") Carol Brand really does take the pain out of dealing with Specialized, she's the best.

    Like you, I found that when I rode in a saddle that ACTUALLY FITS THE HORSE and is truly the right size for me and my "hugely muscular" thighs, my seat was immediately more secure and my posture improved dramatically.

    So, there's that.

    The newer removable seats are made with more padding than in years past, and that's a good thing. I used to ride with sheepskin and took it off because I found I didn't need it--and the extra layer made the twist feel wider, which is uncomfortable for me. Also, sheepskin + riding in the rain = soggy bum = embarrassing diaper rash.

    I haven't had a problem with stirrup leathers and haven't felt the need for stirrup turners. Check your foot position in the stirrup (have somebody take photos from the ground) to make sure your foot is squarely in the stirrup and not shoved in too far or positioned at a strange angle. When you've ridden a few hundred miles in the stirrups, the thick padding will crush down a bit under the ball of your foot to cradle it, so be sure you're building the crushed-down part in the right place.

    Best of luck!

  2. Hi Ruth,

    I ride in a Specialized International and I am totally a 'princess and the pea' type person. I have to have nothing under my thigh, or I bruise, nothing on my shin, or I bruise and I have double seat savers. I ended up shimming the seat (where I sit), adding fleece covers on the stirrup leathers and also shimming under my thigh where the leathers hang down. But, now it's very comfy. We'll take good care of your old Specialized - no doubt you'll see it out on the trail!

  3. Aarene, I had never thought about it before, but I think you are right about my feet. I tend to shove them as far into the stirrups as I can for the extra stability. I'll try pulling them back a bit and see how it goes. I'm already noticing a difference in my low back and hips, but I really need to get out an put some miles on it to see where the shortcomings are. Maybe this weekend...

    Cathy, I asked Carol about doing that very thing. I have a piece of high-density closed foam from another project, and I'm thinking about using it to slightly bolster the seat rise. I also have a plan about the seat saver, though I'm saving that for another blog post. :) I'm glad someone will have the pleasure of using that old Trailmaster. It really is a great saddle, just slightly too small for me. Hopefully we'll all be happier with the new setup!

  4. I ride a Synergist and so can't speak specifically about the Specialized or any issues with it but I am the QUEEN of looking like someone beat me after a ride. I've switched from fenders to the two inch leathers and have found that as long as no buckle is on my shin and I've covered the whole saddle in fleece I don't bruise up my legs. Now... chaffing... well... I start every ride with enough monkey butt powder to turn my bum and my saddle white and Glide up my knees. Does the trick but I look a little funny. Hopefully though your awesome new saddle works out great. There is something to be said for a lightweight saddle that fits your horse correctly.